So let's start in January.
Twelve Kings in Sharakhai - Bradley P. Beaulieu
I'm torn with this one. Partly because I REALLY wanted to like it, and partly because I did like it... but not as much as I wanted to.
Twelve Kings is the start of a series of books that follows our main protagonist Ceda, as she struggles to uncover the truth behind her mother's past, her own lineage, and attempts to fulfill an impossible vow to kill the twelve immortal kings of Sharakhai.
So the reason I wanted to like this book so much was the setting and the world building that surrounds it. I love the desert feel to the book and the feel that Sharakhai gives off. Bradley really makes it feel like the city is a shining oasis in the middle of a vast ocean of sand, and that it is also hard fought over.
I loved the idea that the gods were real and walked the earth and made pacts with humans, and the same with demons. Also that they weren't the first gods. It's a complex and deep world that draws you in and makes you want to learn more and Bradley does an excellent job of drip feeding the info, always giving you just enough to wet your appetite.
He also does an excellent job with the antagonists. The kings really do feel powerful, immortal, and dangerous. It's clear they have more going on than Ceda ever learns of in the first book and that's another big draw. Plots within plots within plots.
Ceda herself is a rich and interesting character. She's clearly an excellent swords-woman, but Bradley makes a point of not portraying her as invincible. As good as she might be, she's not infallible, she makes mistakes, gets knocked down, but always gets back up again. He also makes the relationship between Ceda and her best friend Emre, to feel very natural and believable. Ceda drives the story onwards well, like a dog with a bone unable to stop pulling on threads and seeing what unravels.
So onto the problems. First off the book occasionally feels quite long-winded. There are bits where it drags and drags hard. It's not that the plot isn't moving along nicely, but more that Bradley has a habit of treading the same ground a few times, telling us things we've already learned.
There's also the problem with the timeline. There are flashbacks, zipping us back to Ceda's childhood, but that's not my issue. From time to time, more so towards the finale, the book gives us a chapter leading up to a shocking reveal... and then the next chapter explains how a different character got to the same shocking reveal. It almost feels like the editor moved chapters around to make said reveals more shocking, but that leaves chapters feeling very out of place. It also drags the pace down and bumps you out of the narrative. It feels heavy handed, as though things could have (and should have) been cut, but were left in and moved around instead.
Lastly is this. The book doesn't feel complete. It feels very much like the first in a series. And it is. And that's OK. But I felt the finale wasn't big enough and there were far too many threads left loose at the end. Maybe it's just greed, I wanted more, but the open-ended ending felt more like a second in a trilogy and less like a first.
Twelve Kings in Sharakhai earns itself a solid 3.5 (I always round up). It was a good book, with excellent characters, and intriguing plot, and wonderful world building. I really like it. Just not as much as I wanted to like it.
Wraith Knight - Charles Phipps
So I can't really talk about this one because it's not released yet. Suffice to say I have described it as Lord of the Rings meets World of Warcraft.
Crowley: Episode One The Ravensblack Affair - Eddie Skelson
One Line Review: Dream boats and drugs, open robes, peril, more peril, death, blood, potatoes, fire, madness.
So I'll start by saying that I really enjoyed this one. Eddie Skelson does an excellent of making his main protagonist, Crowley, a thoroughly likable, yet intensely unlikable character. And that's where the strength of the novel lay for me. The interactions between the characters were a lot of fun with the witty dialogue coming at the right times to relieve some (not all) of the tension at the right times.
The plot zips along at a quick pace and does a good job of explaining the Lovecraft-ian mythos and jargon to a complete noobie like myself. I never felt out of depth due to not having ever read any Cthulu-based literature.
The only real issues I had with the book were to do with the PoV switchings often being un-signposted. Sometimes we'd have a paragraph of Crowley's thoughts, followed by a paragraph of the monster's thoughts, without any indication that we were changing. This is fine, but I struggled probably because my brain isn't wired that way.
And the actions scenes tended to use a lot of past tense instead of present tense which dragged me out of the action a bit and interrupted the flow.
All in all episode one of Eddie Skelson's Crowley is a thoroughly enjoyable read with some real gems when it comes to dialogue and a story that leaves you wanting more... which there is in episode 2.
I give Crowley a solid 3.5 stars, but as always I round up so 4 it is.
The Crown Tower - Michael J. Sullivan
OK, honestly I was bored most of the way through this one.
I should start by saying I've not read Sullivan's first trilogy, only a short story of his (featuring Hadrian and Royce) in the Blackguards anthology. I liked it, thought I'd give his larger works a try. I have not read the original trilogy, The Riyria Revelations because I thought I'd start with the prequels. I will also say I 'read' this by way of audiobook.
The Crown Tower follows 2 story threads. One of Hadrian Blackwater as he struggles to find a place in the world after becoming tired of the soldiering way of life. And one of Gwen as she struggles against an abusive pimp.
The story starts off slow. VERY slow. And to be honest, I don't feel it ever really picks up. It's not just a lack of action, it's a lack of anything seemingly important going on at all. The first half of the book feels like Hadrian on a side-quest, and Gwen crossing the street (both literally and metaphorically).
By the second half of the book Hadrian has met his long time life partner, Royce, and the two are thrust together in the hope that they will one day learn to work with each other and teach each other. The problem is, while I can see that one day they will be a fun buddy-cop pair, they just annoyed the hell out of me. Both of them whine and moan... and then moan and whine. And they keep moaning about the same things over and over again. The plot struggles to move forwards. And when they finally do decide to trust each other, it seems rushed (at least on Royce's part). A lifetime of well-earned mistrust and skepticism and suspicion seems undone by one selfless act on Hadrian's part.
Gwen's entire story (while interesting) only actually intersects with Hadrian and Royce's on the penultimate chapter. It feels like two separate stories, not one. And there are too many threads left completely unfinished. We have a chapter from Gwen's nemesis' point of view at one point and then he's foiled once by her (fairly easily) and we never hear from him again. That particular plot line felt a lot like filler.
The problem is, I wanted to like the book. I loved the short story (Professional Integrity) in Blackguards and wanted to read more of Hadrian and Royce. Perhaps I should have started with Revelations because it feels like this book is written for fans of that series rather than potential new readers. If I already knew the characters well and loved them I'd probably be giggling with joy over every sarcastic interaction... but I don't. Maybe I'll give Revelations a try after the sour taste has faded.
Overall I give this one 2 stars because it's well-written and Gwen's story is very interesting.
That's it so far. This month I'm reading King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence and The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley. I will review them when I'm finished.
I will point out that the artwork to Brian Staveley's trilogy is some of the most beautiful ever to grace a book cover in my opinion.